In the 1960s a group of Japanese historians responded to the contemporary bureaucratic superstate by embarking on a search for a popular past. They began to reexamine Japan's modern experience from the point of view of the people, not the elite, and with special emphasis not on political events but on social forces and attitudes. They rejected Marxism and modernization theory as alien and limiting and sought instead an indigenous methodology that might better fit the Japanese case because it was derived from it. By choosing topics that suggested the importance of popular energies in the development of modern Japan, they endeavored to enlarge the canvas of social history by bringing the people into it as significant subjects of historical change. Their scholarly efforts have drawn the attention of Japanese within and without academic circles and, as this introductory critical essay suggests, may usefully draw that of Western readers as well.
Carol Gluck is Assistant Professor of Japanese History at Columbia University.